Four local chefs showed off their talents at Sussex County Day on Sunday, Sept. 17 at the fairgrounds in Augusta.
One of the major highlights of the day, the Sussex County Chopped Cooking Challenge involved three rounds of competition.
The chefs were Randy Hazen of Early American Tavern in Sussex, Michelle Lentz of Salad House in Sparta, Jake Verwys of Inner Love in Sussex and Alex Grave de Peralta of the Farmer’s Daughter in Newton.
Judges for the competition were Ben DelCoro, vice president of sales and marketing at Fossil Farms; Ken Salmon, recently retired from Northshore House; and Gregory Martin, director of food and beverage at Perona Farms.
The MC was Orlando Rodriguez, a lawyer in Newton.
Verwys was declared the winner.
He grew up in Sparta and graduated from Sparta High School in 2011.
He credits his love of cooking to his mother. “My mom always made amazing home dinners and fostered the attitude that good food was something special that brought people together.”
Although he did not study cooking, he describes it as “an obsessive hobby.”
“Dinner each night took on a life of its own as I almost always tried a new dish or cuisine or a variation on something. I’ve studied baking in a similar fashion,” he said.
Stephanie Jasper, owner of Inner Love, opened her restaurant to bring her belief in healthy living to others.
“My newly found dedication to a healthy body and mind inspired me to create delicious, nutritious snacks and beverages that combine traditional fermentation and preservation practices with modern tastes,” she said.
Jasper brought Verwys on as head chef at Inner Love in December, when she opened her second location in Vernon. “We share a passion for unique food preparation.”
She said Verwys has been a great addition to her vision for Inner Love. “His palette for combining flavors is truly special. We bounce ideas off each other to come up with dishes that tantalize the tongue.”
As Verwys returns to his work creating tasty dishes at Inner Love, he knows that winning the Chopped competition is more than just an award for him.
“I take great pride in the food I create and it has always been a creative and artistic outlet as much as it is nourishment to bring people together. It feels amazing to have it recognized at such an event so full of like-minded people,” he said.
My mom always made amazing home dinners and fostered the attitude that good food was something special that brought people together.” - Jake Verwys, head chef at Inner Love in Sussex and winner of the Sussex County Chopped Cooking Challenge